Sunday, August 21, 2011

Matsushima's Toronagashi Festival

Candles on the ocean under the full moon, at Matsushima's Toronagashi Festival
Last week, right after I returned to Sendai from Tokyo, I went out to the scenic coastal town of Matsushima. I went to see the second Obon festival there; the first one was a Lantern Festival, which you can read more about here. In that post, I talked about how Obon is a Buddhist holiday similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. The Toronagashi Festival I went to last week is about the second part of Obon, in which you send the spirits of your ancestors back to the other world. This is usually done by floating a candle in a little raft down a river or over the ocean. Check out the Wiki page if you want to know more.

My friend and I dressed up in yukata, light cotton kimono, and took the train out to Matshushima. We made it just in time to catch the last boat of the evening, which takes people out amongst the candles in the ocean so that everyone can set theirs adrift as well. Matsushima is always a scenic area, but it looked especially beautiful all lit up with festival lanterns and floating candles.

In August, Matsushima usually has a big fireworks festival. I've never gone to it, since I've heard that the crowds are terrible. But this year, thanks to the earthquake, it was canceled. So everyone was really surprised when, right after our boat left the dock, giant fireworks started going off overhead. We went really close to the island where they were setting them off, so it was the best view I've ever had of a fireworks show. And since it was a surprise, there were no big crowds- we got really lucky!

Ninja fireworks, they just exploded out of nowhere!

 After the fireworks, the other passengers on the boat set out their candles to join the hundreds of others already floating on the waves. Then we headed back to land. There was a small area set up with booths for food, and earlier in the night there was traditional music and dance performances. We had some greasy festival food for dinner- okonomiyaki and yakitori (a kind of seafood and veggie pancake and grilled chicken on a stick, respectively.)

Mmm, greasy food..
It was a short festival, but very beautiful and well-worth the trip out to the coast. Watching the fireworks up close from a boat surrounded by candles-- definitely one of my best summer experiences in Japan.

See you next year, ancestors!


  1. Ninja fireworks, that sounds so amazing, like have a giant display all to youself. I really wish I had been there I love fireworks but I hate crowds too.
    Why are you not taking pictures of the okonomiyaki damnit!

  2. Ninja fireworks FTW. :)

    Festival okonomiyaki is actually not that good... thus, no pics. I wanna go out for real okonomiyaki soon!

  3. How can okonomiyaki not be good? I don't understand!?